Central Maui Landfill chosen for final disposal of Lahaina wildfire debris

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A truck stops atop a weigh station Wednesday afternoon off of Honoapiʻilani Highway en route to the Olowalu temporary disposal site for Lahaina wildfire debris. After a public survey of site options, the Central Maui Landfill was selected as the permanent disposal site. PC: Brian Perry

About 150 Lahaina residents broke into cheers and a round of applause Wednesday night at the Lahaina Civic Center when the Central Maui Landfill was announced as the final disposal site for an estimated 400,000 cubic yards of toxic ash and debris from the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire.

The landfill location off of Pūlehu Road in Puʻunēnē comes with a set of pros and cons, said Shayne Agawa, director of the Department of Environmental Management. On the plus side, it’s on undeveloped land already planned for future landfill expansion, and it’s remote.

“It’s away from residential sites, away from hospitals, away from schools,” he said. “It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere.”

Significantly, the landfill’s elevation is below an area where rainwater at the disposal site would impact underground sources of fresh water, meaning drinking water would not be affected, Agawa said.

Department of Environmental Management Director Shayne Agawa goes over the pros and cons of the Central Maui Landfill as the final disposal site for Lahaina ash and debris. PC: Brian Perry

As for landfill site disadvantages, he said the Central Maui location is much farther away than the other two final sites, both in West Maui, that were under final consideration: Wahikuli, mauka of the Wahikuli housing subdivision; and Crater Village, located mauka of Wahikuli and north of public schools in Lahaina.


The landfill is 25 miles and a 40-minute drive away from Lahaina. Traffic congestion is anticipated, especially at chokepoints such as the pali area on Honoapiʻilani Highway. Large trucks will be hauling debris and ash estimated, in total, to fill five football fields five stories high.

However, traffic impacts ranked as a lower concern in a public survey, Agawa said. “But it doesn’t mean we can disregard this. We have to think about traffic impacts.”

Central Maui Landfill. File photo. PC: County of Maui / Facebook

Moving forward, Agawa said the next steps include finalizing land acquisition for the Central Maui Landfill’s expansion, then working on the design of and permitting for the permanent disposal site.

“We have capacity issues at the Central Maui Landfill,” he said. “We’re already in the process of acquiring land for expansion.”

Also to handle 40,000 truckloads of burned material from Olowalu to Pūlehu Road, “we will continue to work with our federal and state partners to address and mitigate traffic concerns,” Agawa said. “Our team is dedicated to work with our partners to start thinking about how we can make it safer once we start transporting this debris.”


The county is considering the use of private cane haul roads to separate debris-hauling trucks from traffic on public roads and highways, he said.

Then there’s the question about how much the work will cost and where money will come from.

“This is not going to be cheap,” Agawa said. “We all knew that. We need to continue to work for funding to fund this final site.”

Agawa emphasized that the permanent disposal site selection came, in part, because of public feedback received through scientific and public surveys.

West Maui Council Member Tamara Paltin welcomed the choice of the Central Maui Landfill.


“I think that’s the best one for the community because the other two (in West Maui) were so close to the community,” she said.

At the Lahaina Civic Center, residents await the official announcement Wednesday night of a permanent disposal site for Lahaina wildfire debris. PC: Brian Perry

Paltin agreed that traffic remains a concern, but “if you’re going to weigh traffic versus our community’s long-term health or drinking water, I think the majority of people would stay in traffic.”

She added that Maui County, state and federal governments could mitigate traffic congestion by building more housing in West Maui and reducing road trips for people now commuting between West and Central Maui.

“There’s things that can be done to mitigate traffic, and we need to get serious about building interim and permanent housing in West Maui,” Paltin said.

When asked for his reaction to the landfill’s selection as the final disposal site, Lahaina resident Kim Ball, whose home was destroyed in the fire, said: “I think the County of Maui took into consideration the will of the people!”

In other wildfire updates Wednesday, US Army Corps of Engineers Col. Eric Swenson said 168 residential properties in Lahaina have been cleared of debris. “That’s a great start,” he said.

Information about fire debris removal is available at mauirecovers.org.

Swenson asked residents who’ve lost their homes to complete paperwork allowing the Army Corps to clear their properties. Jordan Molina, director of the Department of Public Works, said there’s no benefit for Lahaina residents to opt out of the Corps’ debris-removal program.

Molina said the fire-impacted segment of Honoapiʻilani Highway from Keawe Street to Launiupoko remains closed to the general public while debris removal is ongoing. Officials are looking for ways to relieve traffic congestion, including the installation of a temporary traffic signal at Keawe Street.

Mayor Richard Bissen said there have been reports of speeding by people who’ve been permitted access to the closed segment of the highway. Police have been advised of the excessive speeding, and the mayor urged drivers to slow down and exercise caution.

“It’s a work site,” he said. “There’s a lot going on there, a lot of big trucks, a lot of movement.”

Swenson said the Army Corps is ready to begin Phase 2 of debris removal from commercial and public sites in the burn zone. And, a temporary elementary school site has been completed, he said. Students from the destroyed Kamehameha III Elementary can begin attending classes there in April, beginning the fourth quarter of the school year.

A full recording of Wednesday night’s meeting is posted on the County of Maui’s Facebook page HERE.

Lahaina residents listen during a question-and-answer session Wednesday at the Lahaina Civic Center. PC: Brian Perry
Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
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